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2021 sees the return of local sports — Year in Review

Posted on January 5, 2022 by Taber Times
TIMES FILE PHOTO

Despite COVID-19 playing the villain early in 2021, sports did make a return in southern Alberta later in the year which led to plenty of excitement in the Taber area.

January 6: I think it’d be hard to find anyone who thought this holiday break was close to normal with COVID-19 restrictions preventing large gatherings for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. But at least Boxing Day and the following days have provided some normalcy for Canadian hockey fans with the 2021 World Junior Championships.

January 13: The day is finally here. Tonight, the NHL 2020-21 season officially kicks off, and it won’t look like any season before, or likely after. The fact there will be a North Division featuring only Canadian teams is so strange and so awesome for Canadian hockey fans, it almost doesn’t seem like something the NHL would do.

January 20: The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed Hockey Alberta’s Provincial Championships for the second straight year. In an announcement last week, Hockey Alberta made the call to cancel the upcoming tournaments in light of the uncertainty the pandemic continues to bring for organized sports in the province.

January 27: While the weather outside has hardly felt like a traditional southern Alberta winter, the Vauxhall Academy of Baseball Jets are hoping when spring temperatures roll around, they’ll be able to play their usual amount of games.

February 3: It’s 2021 and Tom Brady is back in the Super Bowl — who’s surprised? At 43 years of age, and in a Tampa Bay Buccaneer jersey, there has to be some surprise to seeing the GOAT back in the biggest game of the year.

February 10: While many baseball purists suggest the game hasn’t changed all that much, playing, coaching and spectating have all experienced some type of amendment generation to generation. To get a better view at ground level, the Taber Times gauged the state of the game with Vauxhall Academy of Baseball head coach Les McTavish, Grade 11 infielder Hayden Hleucka and parent Andy Lenehan to get their opinion on where baseball currently sits.

February 17: The Toronto Raptors are finally starting to show some resemblance of the Toronto Raptors of old. After an excruciatingly slow 2-8 start, the Raptors are creeping back up to the .500 mark and back into the playoff picture.

February 24: Another step has been taking in legalizing single-game sports betting. Bill C-218 — An Act to amend the Criminal Code (single-event sports betting) — was adopted at second reading with a 303-15 vote and will now be referred to committee. If the bill gets third reading, provinces and territories would be given the opportunity of regulating single-event sports gambling.

March 3: The Taber Viper Swim Club has kicked off the registration process for the 2021 season. At this point, however, the club is seeking to get a handle on how many potential swimmers are thinking about hitting the pool this spring and summer.

March 10: Last Thursday during the Maple Leafs/Oilers games, Wayne Gretzky announced on Twitter Canada’s “Hockey Dad” — Walter Gretzky — had passed away at 82 after dealing with Parkinson’s disease and other health complications. As one of the most visible hockey parents in the country, Walt leaves a large hole in Canada when talking about hockey.

March 17: Even though the COVID-19 pandemic is still with us, these are exciting times for the Taber Lacrosse Association. Taber officially became a lacrosse association this year, which means players will be registering to play with Taber teams this season, not through Lethbridge.

March 24: While everyone waits to see what spring brings, the Taber and District Soccer Association is hopeful it allows for a return to regularly scheduled programming. The past year has been untraditional in every sense, but with warm weather coming to southern Alberta, the association is ready for whatever comes down from the provincial government.

March 31: Come this summer, Tuff runners will be hitting the Municipal District of Taber Park on July 10. Last year’s event was able to go ahead with additional safety measures due to the pandemic and the group was once again looking to host the event in 2021.

April 7: The 2020-21 Erste Liga (Hungary/Romania pro league) season saw Taberite Brance Orban breakout offensively once again, as he continues his hockey career in Europe. While it was his fourth year in Budapest, Orban has now played overseas for eight seasons, and has experienced all sorts of success.

April 14: In a game reminiscent of pond hockey, the Lethbridge Hurricanes have secured a weekend sweep.

April 21: After a successful first year as an organization, the Taber Trail 77 club is hoping to expand in all facets in 2021. While the COVID-19 pandemic affected several activities, Trail 77 didn’t see too much negative impact due to them being almost entirely outdoors on trails near Taber.

April 28: While the 2020 fall season allowed for some games against the Prairie Baseball Academy in Lethbridge, the Vauxhall Academy of Baseball Jets have yet to suit up in a game this spring. With Alberta moving back to Phase 1 of the relaunch, AHS guidelines haven’t allowed for competition this season.

May 5: Mitch Ball was the equivalent of a big teddy bear — even called “Mr. Sunshine” by his co-workers. However, when Ball put on his mask and umpire vest and stepped behind the plate to call the balls and strikes, the umpire commanded — and received — respect from players, coaches and fans with his calm, fair demeanour, a passion for his craft and for the respect he gave back to the game and the people he encountered. That is how Ball, who passed away Saturday morning after complications with COVID-19, is being remembered by his family, friends and colleagues.

May 12: There’s never been any question since 2012 that Mike Trout is the best player in baseball, and while many may have expected him to slow down, it’s been just the opposite. He’s started the 2021 season on absolute fire, and despite the Angels continuing to be a mediocre team, Trout has been must-watch TV this season.

May 19: After 56 regular-season games, the NHL’s North Division has finally been set for this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs — Edmonton vs. Winnipeg and Toronto vs. Montreal. While Calgary and Vancouver are playing their final game on Wednesday afternoon, the majority of Canadian hockey fans have already shifted their focus to what promises to be an exciting first round of all-Canadian matchups.

May 26: Local athletes have had a tough 14 months with the ongoing pandemic as their seasons have seen cancellations, delays and start and stops throughout the entirety. While it isn’t how they want to celebrate, the Taber Skating Club has hit a milestone in 2021 as it’s their 55th year as an organized club.

June 2: There’s literally nothing left to say about the Toronto Maple Leafs. They lost another Game 7 on Monday night and at this point, if you’re a Leafs fan like myself, you just expect the same result year in, year out.

June 9: Every five days from March till September, the baseball world can watch the greatest pitcher on the planet. New York Mets’ pitcher Jacob DeGrom has continued to outclass the vast majority of hitters in Major League Baseball for the past several years, but this season he’s kicked it up another notch.

June 16: It took several months longer than anyone wanted, but the Vauxhall Academy of Baseball Jets finally hit the diamond for a game against an opponent. This past weekend, the Jets travelled to Spitz Stadium in Lethbridge to face the Bulls for a pair of afternoon games.

June 23: For Canadian football fans, the wait for another Canadian Football Season probably feels like a lifetime, but the league is gearing up for a return this summer. After the COVID-19 pandemic forced the CFL to cancel their 2020 season, fans understandably weren’t 100 per cent confident a season would happen in 2021 either, even though Commissioner Randy Ambrosie stated there would be a season.

June 30: The Montreal Canadiens, despite being underdogs, are once again advancing, but this time they’re heading to the Stanley Cup Finals where they’ll face the defending champions — the Tampa Bay Lightning.

July 7: In a return for the first event this summer, motocross enthusiasts will once again be able to race at the Taber Motorsports Park this coming weekend. The Taber Motorcycle Association (TMA) has set their first race weekend for July 9-11, with plenty of events happening before the races go all day Sunday.

July 14: After a two-year hiatus, the Justin Hall Memorial Golf and Dinner is back. Dave Dube — one of the organizers of the event shared about the tradition his friend Justin Hall started, what participants can expect at the event and why it’s important for Dube to carry on the tradition, as well as share some examples of how Hall’s practice of aiding youth that can’t afford sporting gear or enrolment fees provide for those needs in the community.

July 21: Since the story was published in May by TSN’s Rick Westhead, the Chicago Blackhawks have not been handling the alleged sexual abuse by a former coach against their players in a positive way. In early May 2021, an unnamed former Chicago Blackhawks player, who was a member of the 2010 Stanley Cup-winning team, filed a lawsuit accusing the team of ignoring allegations that he and a teammate were sexually assaulted by former Blackhawks’ video coach Brad Aldrich.

July 28: Starting this coming season, the NHL grows to 32 teams as the Seattle Kraken officially join the league. And with that, the team finally welcomed 32 new players to the organization through the expansion draft held last week.

August 4: After COVID-19 delayed several football tournaments and games in the previous year, football players, coaches, and fans were finally treated to some game action earlier this summer. The Bantam Showcase, which developed after the 2020 Alberta Summer Games were cancelled, was finally held in mid-July in Red Deer.

August 11: While the 2021 season didn’t end with a district title under their belt, the Vauxhall Spurs were able to end the season on top. After an entire exhibition schedule this year, the Spurs went into the August long weekend in search of a tournament win in Medicine Hat.

August 18: Damiano Palmegiani’s baseball career has taken the next step. Some of the first steps took place in his time with the Vauxhall Academy of Baseball Jets and a quick stint with the Lethbridge Bulls. The 21-year-old third baseman from Surrey B.C. was drafted by his home country Toronto Blue Jays in the 14th round of this year’s MLB draft last month.

August 25: For their first three games of the playoffs, the arms of the Lethbridge Bulls starting pitchers staff carried them. On Saturday night, the Bulls bats took over and now they’re the Western Canadian Baseball League champions for the second time in six years following a 16-5 win over the Edmonton Prospects in Game 2 of the WCBL best-of- three final Saturday night.

September 1: The Taber ‘AA’ Golden Suns have seen it all over the past year and a half. From games and seasons being cancelled, to restrictions only allowing for practices, the three teams — U13, U15, and U18 — have their eyes set for a return to a normal, pre-COVID season in 2021-22.

September 8: While summer may be over, the Vauxhall Academy of Baseball Jets are just gearing up for their baseball season. Players reported back to Vauxhall in late August and were aching to get back on the diamond after the usual summer layoff. VAB began their 16th season this past week with participation in the Keith Jorgensen Memorial Tournament, which had four divisions and was co-hosted by Prairie Baseball Academy in Lethbridge and VAB. The Jets had a spectacular run going 4-0 and winning the tournament in their first action of the season.

September 15: It’s certainly starting to feel like football weather in southern Alberta and the W.R. Myers Rebels high school football team have begun their season with a massive win over a big rival. Heading out on the road for Week 1, the Rebels took on the Willow Creek Composite Cobras last Friday night where they were able to walk away with a 54-6 win.

September 22: With players back on the hardcourt, the St. Mary’s junior varsity girls Auroras volleyball team have started their season with a big tournament win in Stirling. Last weekend, the St. Mary’s JV squad hit the road to Stirling for a tournament that saw them play a variety of different teams from the area.

September 29: In mid-September, the W.R. Myers golf team suited up for the Alberta Schools’ Athletic Association South Golf Zones at the Taber Golf Course. Overall, the W.R. Myers team competed and came away with a favourable result. The tournament saw 138 golfers competing, which included four from W.R. Myers. The W.R. Myers boys team placed third in the event behind Vauxhall and Magrath.

October 6: After the boys and girls Barnwell Trojans volleyball teams won the Cat Classic tournaments in late September, the teams followed that up with wins at their home tournament this past weekend.

October 13: Council has started discussing numbers of very important public event initiatives, and one event that has been sabotaged due to COVID-19 was the annual Firefighters Curling Championship in southern Alberta. At town council’s regular meeting on Sept. 27, a delegation from the Taber Fire Department approached council with a funding request of $5,000 to cover a short fall.

October 20: With fall in the air, runners at St. Mary’s School headed east to Medicine Hat earlier this month to participate in the South Zone Cross Country Championships. With several runners heading to the event, the school was hopeful of good weather and good results.

October 27: After a successful start to the season, the St. Mary’s JV Storm volleyball team has continued to grind out wins. Heading to Bow Island this past weekend, the team once again played lights out on their way to the tournament title.

November 3: For the first time in nearly 20 years, the D.A. Ferguson Foxes boys volleyball team are divisional champions.

November 10: As the months begin to bring colder weather, the Vauxhall Academy of Baseball Jets have parked in the hangar. The winter months bring plenty of development and training for the team and despite cold weather, there’s still plenty of baseball happening in downtown Vauxhall.

November 17: After a convincing 24-6 win against the Willow Creek Cobras to win the ASAA South Zone Tier 4 title, the W.R. Myers Rebels football team were set to face off against the Canmore Wolverines in the ASAA Tier 4 Provincial Quarterfinal.

November 24: The time has come for the Taber Oil Kings to hit the ice for Central Alberta Hockey League regular-season action with the tiering round now behind them.

December 1: It sure felt like the W.R. Myers Rebels were destined for a storybook ending with how their march to Provincials was progressing, but the Sexsmith Sabres had something to say about that. The Rebels lined up against the Sabres on Saturday morning at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, and the number one ranked team in Tier IV showed exactly why they were the best team in the grouping as they marched to a 51-7 win over the Rebels.

December 8: The basketball season has started across southern Alberta and the W.R. Myers boys teams hit the court last week in Deep South Basketball League action. The Deep South Basketball League sees JV/SV boys and girls teams from Coaldale Christian, Immanuel Christian, Picture Butte, Kate Andrews, Willow Creek, Stirling, Winston Churchill, and W.R. Myers.

December 15: his weekend the JV Auroras went to Picture Butte for the “Rule the Court “basketball tournament and came away with a second place finish. Their team defence held the Picture Butte Queens scoring in check, but couldn’t muster enough scoring to get past them in the final.

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